Tiana Gee says her Ciao House experience flavors her culinary vision, interview

Tiana Gee on Ciao House Season 2
Tiana Gee on Ciao House Season 2 / Food Network

While the picturesque Italian coast offers a stunning backdrop to Ciao House Season 2, Tiana Gee saw the Food Network competition as more than just an immersive culinary experience. During a recent email interview, the talented chef revealed why it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

On the Food Network competition Ciao House, the show might be a culinary competition but it is also creates a hunger to travel to Italy. That locale influences the challenges, impacts the chefs in the competition, and invites the viewer to learn more. It is far from an episode of Triple D, but it does have people invested in the contestants and their interpretation of Italian cuisine.

During a recent email conversation with Ciao House Season 2 chef, Tiana Gee, she graciously shared some commentary on her experience. While her many food fans watch her YouTube channel, social media accounts, and have enjoyed her pop-up fusion restaurant, the Food Network competition pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Wondering what else Tiana Gee had to say? Grab a plate and read her thoughts on Ciao House Season 2.

Cristine Struble: What drew you to this Food Network culinary competition?

Tiana Gee: I loved the first season, so I was thrilled when I got the call to join! I'm passionate about food and travel, and I love experiencing new cultures and communities. This competition was a perfect fit for me because it combines my love for cooking with the chance to explore more of Italy and immerse myself in its amazing cuisine and culture.

CS: Do you think that your depth of culinary knowledge will help you in the competition? Are there commonalities that can be found in any cuisine?

TG: I believe my culinary background and skills will be a big advantage in this competition, especially since we never know what challenges we'll face. It's crucial to be well-versed in different techniques and cuisines. One commonality across all cuisines is that food is a connecting point; it's about moments and feelings. Just like the soul food and Filipino dishes I grew up with, Italian cuisine has that same underlying comfort and nostalgia. Food brings people together, though in a competition, it can also tear you apart.

CS: Fusion cuisine can sometimes be misunderstood. How do you find a common thread without the dish becoming cliché?

TG: For me, fusion cuisine is a reflection of my identity. As a Filipina and Black woman, my pop-up, SoulPhil, is where I celebrate my heritage through fusion dishes. SoulPhil represents the most authentic food I've ever cooked, blending the flavors I grew up with to create Filipino Soul Food. For example, combining the southern buttermilk cast iron cornbread I love with the Filipino corn bibingka, a chewy coconut delight, was natural for me. That’s why my macapuno cornbread, served with coco butter, is a staple at SoulPhil. Fusion cuisine, to me, is never misunderstood because food is deeply personal. As a culinary artist, I express my love for my cultures through a unique blend of flavors.

CS: The environment of Ciao House is unlike other culinary competitions. How did you balance working and living with the other chefs? What was your biggest struggle in the competition?

TG: This was by far the toughest competition I've ever participated in. Living with the other chefs for an entire season added a layer of emotional and spiritual challenge. Balancing living and working with the other chefs allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level, which could be both beneficial and detrimental. For someone like me, who focuses on cooking rather than politics, this was particularly challenging. I entered the competition wanting to showcase my culinary skills, but quickly realized that strategy and alliances played a significant role as well. My biggest struggle in the competition was navigating these dynamics while staying true to my passion for cooking.

CS: Is it important for chefs to have a strong social media presence? How does that influence your approach to your pop-up restaurant?

TG: I believe having a strong social media presence isn't essential, but it is beneficial and helps aid in building brand identity and fostering community. Since childhood, I've been passionate about cooking and entertaining, often imagining myself hosting my own cooking show. This passion eventually led to the creation of my YouTube channel, "Cookin with Tee." It's always felt natural for me to share my love for food and engage with others, both through my pop-up restaurant, SoulPhil, and my online platform. While social media isn't a necessity, it aligns with my desire to share my culinary knowledge and connect with an audience. I do believe social media has helped with building brand awareness especially with my pop up.

CS: What is next for you after Ciao House?

TG: After Ciao House, I'm taking the experiences with me wherever I go. I'll keep pouring my heart into SoulPhil, while popping up in different cities. Collaborating with other great restaurants and brands is high on my list too. And of course, I'll continue sharing my culinary adventures and recipes on Cookin' with Tee. My latest passion project, Travel with Tee, is also a big focus. It's all about sharing my love for food, culture, and travel. Continuing to live out my childhood dreams and staying true to who I am is at the core of everything I do. Each project is equally important to me, and I'm excited to keep pursuing them all!

Want to see Tiana Gee on Ciao House Season 2? New episodes air Sunday nights on Food Network. Episodes can be streamed the next day on MAX.